The Cherry Blossom Challenge

Every year spring rolls around in DC and photographers from across the land inevitably flock to the Tidal Basin to see what they can come up with. I guess if it’s your first time shooting down there you’re kind of working from a blank slate (as I was last year), but as the years go by you realize that it’s extremely difficult to get a “wow” shot of the cherry blossoms. Every shot seems to have been done already.

There’s the “frame the Jefferson Memorial with some cherry blossoms” shot. Then there’s the “frame the Washington Monument with some cherry blossoms” shot. There’s also the “show some people on a paddle boat with the blossoms and the Jefferson Memorial in the background” shot. And if you’re a tourist with a camera phone, there’s the famous “point your phone up at a tree and push the button” shot. Those are always spectacular.

Not only is it difficult to come up with unique, original photos of the cherry blossoms, but each year other challenges are thrown our way:

  • The weather. It’s not always ideal for shooting. It could be rainy, overcast, windy, you name it. When I went down to the Tidal Basin on Sunday (I got there at 6:30 AM) it was completely overcast and gray. Not exactly a cheery backdrop for trees with white blossoms.
  • The sea of tourists. I was there at 6:30 in the morning, and by 7:00 the parking lot was full. So much for the “early bird” theory. People swarmed in at a maddening pace to point their camera phones up at the trees. Others were walking their dogs, fishing from the ledge, and pushing their babies in strollers. Don’t these people know that we don’t want them in our photos? Then there’s a matter of zig zagging between them just to make your way around the Basin, and stopping every 3 minutes when someone asks, “Can you take our picture?” It’s enough to make a sane person crazy.
  • The occurrence of “peak”. Mother Nature doesn’t always play nice and coincide peak bloom with a weekend. What do you do if peak is on a Wednesday? Take off work just to take photos of the blossoms? Only if you’re extremely dedicated or work downtown.
  • Nevertheless, I keep going back for more, and next year I’ll be right back out there to see what kind of photos leap onto my camera. Of the shots that I’ve seen on Flickr this year, this one by prsphoto really caught my eye. This is a very common area to shoot from, but his use of HDR and the sunrise (which somehow escaped my eye) is beautiful. Very well done.

    5 Comments so far

    1. Ali Marcus (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2007 @ 11:49 am

      So true. Often they are prettiest in unexpected places, like residential neighborhoods or in heaps of petals on the ground.

    2. Ben Stanfield (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2007 @ 11:53 am

      It really is difficult to get a new or interesting shot of the blossoms. I was there Sunday at 6:15, as well, and not only was I trying to figure out how to get something unique, I was attempting to use a digital SLR for the first time.

      Looking through Flickr to get some ideas has been handy the past few days, though.

    3. Don (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2007 @ 2:33 pm

      Ben, I’m also new to the digital world these last six months and if you’re not reading you’re at a disadvantage. I’ve found his stuff to be a monumental help.

    4. Max (unregistered) on April 3rd, 2007 @ 3:34 pm

      That’s a great site, Don. Another site I love is

      Ben, my advice for getting to now your DSLR is:

      1) Practice, practice, practice. Shoot many shots of the same scene, tweaking your settings each time. That way you can look at the EXIF file of each photo and see the affect of each setting.

      2) Go out shooting with a photo group or a friend who knows more about cameras than you do. You can learn a lot that way – I know I did. Also explore different types of shooting (macro, portraits, photojournalism, etc).

      3) Take your camera out of “auto” mode. Play around with aperture mode, shutter mode, and full manual mode to really get a feel for your settings.

      Happy shooting! It’s a great hobby.

    5. sa-ra (unregistered) on April 4th, 2007 @ 9:36 pm

      damn. this is so pretty.
      non-tourist @ blossoms.

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